Mental Health Takes a Toll on Women of Color

Manage Your Mind: Don’t Let Your Mind Manage You!

By Keyera Mitchell

Editor’s Note: This article is dedicated in memory of Rita Estell, a Black American woman loved by many, and others who have thought about, attempted and committed suicide.

Mental illness–which has been deemed as “the white man’s disease” by communities of color — has been on the frontline of the media during the past few years and many have witnessed celebrity icons of color coming out about their battles with the taunting ailments that haunt them.

From Kanye West who suffers from bipolar to Kid Cudi who suffers from depression and suicidal thoughts, mental illness does not discriminate.  Individuals of any race can be affected. For Your Love Actress Holly Robinson Peete and Grammy Award Winning R&B singer Toni Braxton have sons who have autism and are advocating to find a cure for the disease.

In general, Latinos are less likely to report mental illness. In 2011, the percentage of persons 18 or older with any mental illness was 15.9 percent among Latinos, compared to 18.8 percent among blacks, 20.5 percent amongst whites and 16.1 percent among Asians. However, among persons of two or more races, the numbers were especially high: 28.3 percent.

Latina celebrities Ana Barbara, Eva Longoria and Salma Hayek also have shared their stories related to their mental health issues.  With so many news stories of celebrities of color (and others) suffering from mental illness, some in people of color still have a tough time accepting that they can also suffer from this disease? A 2016 article from the Huffington Post reports findings from the National Alliance on Mental Illness) that the prevalence of depression in Latino women is higher (46%) than Latino men (19.6%).

Interestingly, first-and-second generation Hispanics are significantly more likely to exhibit symptoms of depression than immigrants. It also is important to note that the rates of depression differ based on country of origin.

For Native Americans, who represent 1.2% of the US population, an estimated 21% have some form of a diagnosable mental illness.  Native Americans experience serious psychological distress 1.5 times more than the general population. Native Americans experience PTSD more than twice as often as the general population.

For Black Americans, some feel that by seeking treatment they will be judged and thought of as ‘crazy’. Others are told to pray and give their worries to God and the feelings of depression, anxiety and bipolar will go away. There isn’t a magic spell that will make these mental roadblocks disappear, but there are medications that can help treat symptoms and get individuals back to a normal lifestyle.

Black people are 20% more likely to be vulnerable to mental illness than any other ethnicity and are the least likely to seek treatment due to the negative stigma surrounding this issue, fear of being judged and religious beliefs. The most common mental disorders that affect the black community are depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and suicide among black males. Those who are exposed to violence because of their living conditions; have been brought up in poverty; or have been homeless, have a higher chance of being diagnosed with a mental illness.

The future of someone who refuses to seek treatment for their mental health is walking a dark and narrow path for serious issues within their future. Ignoring symptoms of mental illness can cause other health issues including making the condition more difficult to treat, homelessness, lack of stability, intense physical pain, becoming vulnerable to victimization, prison and financial issues. Over 75% of patients with mental illness are homeless due to lack of treatment.

Individuals who suffer from mental illnesses have nothing to be ashamed of and there are multiple options available for those who are in need of seeking treatment. Medication is one of the most common ways to treat various conditions like depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), anxiety, and PTSD. Other treatments include support groups where individuals can lean on their peers for assistance in dealing with their condition. Case management is also a way for individuals to cope with their disease and it includes having strategic plans to help individuals through their treatment.

If you or someone you know is suffering from mental illness call SAMHSA Treatment Referral Helpline – 1-877-SAMHSA7 (1-877-726-4727) to find treatment in your area.

XXTRA Contributor: Keyera Mitchell